The Hermeneutics of Closed and Open Minds (was "Leo Casey...")

LeoCasey at LeoCasey at
Mon Jun 26 21:40:14 MDT 1995

Sorry about the first version of this. My AOL 'Flash Session' grabbed the
posting before I was done. This is the final, real thing.

It was Gadamer in his study of interpretation, I believe, who pointed out
that there is no completely open mind, free of all prejudice. Every act of
interpretation, every reading of another's text or action, necessarily begins
within a hermeneutical circle, within a frame constructed by pre-judgments.
But not all 'prejudices' all equal -- some are productive and instructive,
others are restrictive and stultifying.

'Prejudices' so understood involve basic values -- something akin to the
Kantian a priori. One of my basic values -- and hence my 'prejudices' -- is
that my mind is 'closed' with respect to the use of mass murder for political
ends. It is simply morally and politically repugnant and indefensible, and I
am not in the slightest bit interested in discussions of its virtues with
those who would be its apologists. Stalinism is the name given to the
politics (and crimes) of the Soviet state in its period of mass murder of
millions of human beings, and to the politics of those who have supported and
defended that state. Today, those who deny the nature and practices of the
Stalinist state are little more than 'Red' holocaust revisionists, and those
who would explain away its crimes in one or another fashion are 'Red'
versions of Nolte and the German 'conservative historians' who would
rationalize the Nazi terror as a response to the 'Soviet threat'. While
analyses of the causes of Stalinism may be complex and admit many different
views, there is nothing remotely complicated about the moral and political
nature of Stalinism itself.

My prejudice with regard to Stalinism appears to offend Doug, for whom an
open mind concerning this topic is important. When such fundamental values
are in conflict, there is little to be gained by conversation. Cloak it up as
you will, condemn those who insist upon stating the bald truth here as
McCarthyites if you want, but the historical (moral-political) character of
Stalinism -- both in the Soviet state and in the sycophantic Communist
Parties from around the world which were dependent upon that state -- is a
closed issue for those who place any value on the dignity of human life, on
democratic norms, and so on.

Now, interestingly enough, for someone so open-minded with respect to the
'complexities' of Stalinism, Doug is fully prepared to defend a 'closed mind'
with respect to radical democracy. For some reason not entirely clear but
overwhelmingly evident by the terms of his rhetoric, radical democracy has
become a bete noire for him. He hasn't even read Laclau and Mouffe, but he
knows that their argument is complete nonsense. (As a matter of faith?) Why
it is even comparable to palm-reading. (Heavy-handed hyperbole has its
limits, Doug.) And because I have identified myself with this politics, Leo
baiting has become a sideline sport. If the demands of my life keep me from
matching his frenetic rate of posting, he makes sure to issue constant
provocations on his great pleasure at having the list free of my 'empty'
radical democratic politics. Now suddenly when I suggest that there is not
much point in attempting to dialogue with the deaf on radical democracy, he
answers that "I (Doug) asked the question (concerning Crown Heights) out of
genuine curiosity." I would like to believe that this claim rings true, but
right now it is being drowned out by the much noisier peel of

There are many voices on this list with whom I do not agree on many issues,
but nonetheless have grown to like and respect. If we do not share all
analyses, we do share some basic values and concerns. We are able to converse
based on these values, and we learn from each other. I can engage a Justin,
or a Chris, or a Jerry, in a serious exchange, notwithstanding the
differences among us. With others, such as Howie and Joe, I find a
commonality on important points of analysis. But there is an intellectual
openness to different perspectives in these quarters that is altogether
lacking in this list's self-appointed commisars of Marxist orthodoxy.

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